Perceiving gender while perceiving language: Integrating psycholinguistics and gender theory

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There is a substantial body of literature showing that men and women speak differently and that these differences are endemic to the speech signal. However, the psycholinguistic mechanisms underlying the integration of social category perception and language are still poorly understood. Speaker attributes such as emotional state, age, sex, and race have often been treated in the literature as dissociable, but perceptual systems for social categories demonstrably rely on interdependent cognitive processes. We introduce a diversity science framework for evaluating the existing literature on gender and speech perception, arguing that differences in beliefs about gender may be defined as differences in beliefs about differences. Treating individual, group, and societal level contrasts in ideological patterns as phenomenologically distinctive, we enumerate six ideological arenas which define claims about gender and examine the literature for treatment of these issues. We argue that both participants and investigators predictably show evidence of differences in ideological attitudes toward the normative definition of persons. The influence of social knowledge on linguistic perception therefore occurs in the context of predictable variation in both attention and inattention to people and the distinguishing features which mark them salient as kinds. We link experiences of visibility, invisibility, and hypervisibility with ideological variation regarding the significance of physiological, linguistic, and social features, concluding that gender ideologies are implicated both in linguistic processing and in social judgments of value between groups. We conclude with a summary of the key gaps in the current literature and recommendations for best practices studies that may use in future investigations of socially meaningful variation in speech perception. This article is categorized under: Linguistics > Language in Mind and Brain Psychology > Language Linguistics > Language Acquisition Psychology > Perception and Psychophysics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1583
JournalWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The preparation of this manuscript was supported by National Institutes of Health R21 DC018070 to Benjamin Munson. We thank Katherine Dougherty for help with manuscript preparation. We are also grateful for the comments and suggestions shared with us by the anonymous reviewers, which greatly deepened our analysis.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Wiley Periodicals LLC.


  • gender studies
  • sociolinguistics
  • speech perception
  • speech production


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